World Water Day

Floor Speech

Date: March 22, 2016
Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BENISHEK. I thank Ms. Kaptur very much for setting up this time for us to come together on the floor to talk about the importance of the Great Lakes. I also thank Mr. Kelly for being here as well.

It is nice to know there are some issues that are truly bipartisan. I believe that protecting our Great Lakes is really one of those.

The Great Lakes are a vital part of our life in Michigan, particularly my district. I have more Great Lakes frontage than any other district in the country. I have three Great Lakes in my district with over 1,500 miles of frontage on three of the Great Lakes. We have more shoreline than any district in the country other than the State of Alaska, but that is all saltwater up there.

I do not think there is a person in my district who does not consider the lakes a vital part of their lives, whether it is fishing or swimming or sailing or kayaking or just plain sitting by the water. We love our lakes. It is a pure Michigan experience. I encourage you all to visit.

Since coming to Congress, one of my top priorities has been working to keep the Great Lakes clean so that future generations may also enjoy them. I want my grandkids and their kids to experience the joy of their first local fishing derby on a summer day or going ice fishing with their buddies in the winter. The joys of living on or near the Great Lakes inspire us all to ensure that they stay clean for future generations.

However, we treasure our Great Lakes not only for their beauty and recreation they provide, but the incredible value they provide to our economy. In Michigan alone, outdoor recreation generates $18.7 billion in consumer spending and supports nearly 200,000 jobs.

Protecting the Great Lakes requires action on many fronts, which only makes sense. As Ms. Kaptur said, these five Great Lakes represent more than 20 percent of all the fresh water in the world. That is why I have worked along with so many other of my midwestern colleagues to provide adequate funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, something the President always seems to cut back on in his budget.

This bipartisan effort, which must be renewed every year to guarantee that this important program continues, gives local communities across the Great Lakes the ability to clean up local beaches, preserve natural wildlife habitats, and to restore local watersheds, among many other useful products for the Great Lakes.

In my district alone, GLRI funds support projects like the Grand Traverse Bay Watershed Protection Project and the Beaver Island Archipelago Invasive Species Initiative. These programs help protect the Great Lakes while at the same time providing a boost to the local economy.

The Soo Locks also have a major impact on our economy. Maintaining the integrity of the current lock system and ensuring the construction of a second lock is vital for both our national economy and our national security. Some people do not even realize that these locks exist. They are basically the Panama Canal of America. Much of the iron ore that is made into steel, which a lot of the industry in America depends on, passes through this lock. It would cause a major crisis if it should fail.

I am proud to have led a trip with other Members of Congress to the Soo Locks last summer to raise the importance about the importance of these locks. While we have secured funding for a new Economic Reevaluation Report from the Corps of Engineers, we must continue to raise awareness about the importance of this project while we await the publication of this report.

Another issue that concerns all of us in the Great Lakes region is the threat of invasive species. From sea lampreys to quagga mussels that are already present in the Great Lakes, to the Asian carp which we are currently trying to prevent from gaining access, invasive species present a constant threat to this precious resource.

I have worked closely with the gentleman from California (Mr. Thompson) to reorganize the Congressional Invasive Species Caucus, and we are working to make invasive species a priority in this Congress.

While I will be leaving Congress at the end of this term, it is my hope that we can continue to work together this year in a bipartisan and constructive manner to protect the Great Lakes. I am willing to partner with anyone who is willing to do that. I thank Ms. Kaptur for doing this Special Order hour.